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“Spinning a Yarn”: Institutions, Law, and Standards c.1880–1914

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2017

David M. Higgins specializes in business and economic history with particular reference to the evolution and protection of trademarks, merchandise marks and unfair competition.. Newcastle University Business School, Newcastle University, Newcastle NE1 4SE. E-mail:
Aashish Velkar is an economic and business historian with interests in standards and standardization, economic institutions, and industrial processes.This author would like to acknowledge The Pasold Fund, which provided financial assistance to conduct part of the archival research for this project. School of Arts, Languages and Cultures University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL. E-mail:


The Manchester Chamber of Commerce established the Manchester Testing House in 1895, and introduced uniform yarn contracting rules in 1897. The chamber made these institutional “innovations” to deal with the nefarious practice of “short-reeling.” This case study explains how and why merchants were crucial to undoing weaknesses in domestic —and to some extent foreign—legislation to overcome this fraudulent activity. We argue that the Testing House and uniform contract were tantamount to developing a quasi-legal system such that private standards established through cooperative agreements had legal sanction. Our study shows how institutions evolved to improve governance along the supply chain for this highly specialized export-orientated industry. This article contributes to the growing literature on historical markets, institutions, and standards. Based on extensive archival sources, we show how specific and complementary commercial institutions developed within grounded notions of governance rather than abstracted spaces of market exchange.

Copyright © The Author 2017. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Business History Conference. All rights reserved. 

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